May’s best beat tapes include a collection of dust-kissed samples from Turkish records, a retrospective compilation of lush and soulful beats from one of Spain’s most gifted producers, loops and chops from a revered Beat Junkie, minimal and downtempo beats featuring heavy blues/funk guitar, and more.
Anthology Beats (2005-2015)
Cookin Soul first gained a following in the early 2000s through his involvement in the mashup-tape craze Danger Mouse spawned with The Grey Album (see also: Cookin Soul’s Jay-Z vs. Oasis tape, OJAYZIS). From there, the Spanish producer released a series of remix albums, pairing his (of course) soulful, sample-heavy beats with verses by everyone from Nas to Drake. He’s since collaborated with rappers like Freddie Gibbs, Curren$y, and Joey Bada$$ for wholly original tracks.
Anthology Beats (2005-2015), a compilation of Cookin Soul beats from a decades-worth of his remix records, is the best introduction to his style and vast catalog. Many of his multi-layered beats, like “Ilikeit” and “Skyisthelimit,” split the difference between regal bombast and laid-back sensuality. Backed by crunchy, boom-bap percussion, they land somewhere between the beats J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League made for Rick Ross in the late aughts and ‘90s Pete Rock—Miami-ready records for those who hold Illmatic as the pinnacle of rap production. That’s not to say Cookin Soul isn’t versatile; the bouncy, Mtume-sampling “Nuttinbutlove” is primed for the dancefloor, while the distinctly West Coast “Themgangstaz,” with its rubbery synths, wouldn’t sound out of place in a modern funk playlist alongside Dam-Funk or XL Middleton. Ultimately, Anthology Beats isn’t just a reminder of Cookin Soul’s enduring strengths, but a promising sign of hits to come.
Halal Cool J
Self-imposed artistic constraints can yield boundless rewards. Don Leisure knows. On his latest album, Halal Cool J, the Welsh producer composed each beat using Turkish records he found on a series of digs in Istanbul. He leavens Turkish dialogue with fuzzy, dust-filled loops and dynamic percussion. The end results range from hip-hop tinged psych rock (“Borkek Break”) to a Morricone-esque spaghetti western score (“Mehmet Tarantino”). Indeed, the dizzying range Leisure exhibits on this album affirms his skills as a producer—not to mention the breadth of brilliant Turkish music waiting to be discovered in crates around the world. “One for Hamit” is Konyaaltı Beach meets Miami Beach, a breezy synth-wave jam washed in neon pastels. “Maybe Logic,” with its crushing drums, ghostly organ, and ominous vocal sample lands somewhere between peak RZA and Adrian Younge doing his best RZA impression. If Madlib had ever taken the Medicine Show to Turkey, he might’ve made something like Halal Cool J. Hopefully someone’s bumping it at the Grand Bazaar at this very moment.
Fat Jack was an integral member of the L.A. underground long before the Internet rendered the word “underground” obsolete. Throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, he produced for renowned Project Blowed heavyweights like Aceyalone, Abstract Rude, and Volume 10. His album Cater to the DJ (2000) provides an excellent introduction to the profusion of protean and influential rap-stylings from Good Life/Project Blowed MCs, which doubles as an important document of black life in South L.A. at the turn of the millenium.
Virgo is Fat Jack’s first album since 2004’s Cater to the DJ 2. A cosmic-leaning instrumental rap record (no Blowedians appear here), it pulls from the rap, electronic, jazz, and funk music that’s scored L.A. clubs historically and throughout the 2010s; as such, it sounds out of time, not quite retro and not quite contemporary. On “At the Party,” the drums hit with the same metallic, air-blasting thump as a bouncing lowrider. They come from g-funk stock, but are ultimately not of this world; Fat Jack surrounds them with glinting keys and spacey warblings. “Diamond” is similarly expansive and atmospheric, combining plaintive, drawn-out chords, muddied chipmunk-pitched vocals, and skittering percussion; a compelling approximation of what “cloud trap” would sound like if it was actually a thing. And on the aptly named “Coltrane,” Fat Jack creates a jazz ensemble by sampling sax, vibraphone, upright bass, piano, and more. Whether he’s incorporating modern funk (see synth-heavy “The Funk”), the resonant low-end of dub, or something else, you can hear Fat Jack’s rap roots—a legacy built to last.
Beatsmiths don’t get more consistent than California’s Jansport J: He’s given us an excellent beat tape every month since last December. Some have adhered to a theme (e.g., the slow jam sampling goslow.), while others have been more freewheeling. Sayless., the sixth and latest tape, falls in the latter camp; like the rest of J’s projects, it testifies to his formidable range, as well as his admirable consistency. Opener “sayless.” is bright, richly layered soul bolstered by crisp percussion and twinkling keys, whereas “bussabuss” is a frenetic and otherworldly, boom-bap freaked by extraterrestrials. Elsewhere, like on “otherngaz” and “Breakdown,” J flexes his mastery at chopping vocal samples and seamlessly integrating them into his melodies. The latter paints carefully-constructed vocal loops as a sort of mantra, words engineered not just to hypnotize, but to heal (“had to break down the walls I built around me”). As J knows, you only need a few words to get the job done.
Ohbliv is arguably Richmond’s most prolific producer. For evidence, see Retrospective, the compilation of tracks from over 30 beat tapes he released in the decade leading up to 2018, or January’s Soulphonic. Give Thanks is as diverse as Retrospective while building on the sound of Soulphonic. On “Shadow Plai,” for instance, Ohbliv filters R&B and soul through his SP-404 to create a slowed, almost viscous suite with sonic nods to Texas rap. Throughout, he proves adept at so many different aspects of beatmaking that it would take paragraphs to highlight each one. For evidence, listen to the disparate opening (“Daily Reminder”) and closing (“Kontrol Your Heart”) tracks back-to-back. “Daily Reminder” beats to chopped, angular drums and revolves around a sprightly, almost carnivalesque loop. There’s little change from beginning to end, but the dynamic drumming is mesmerizing throughout. “Kontrol Your Heart,” however, is a deftly controlled, acoustic guitar-driven groove punctuated by dry percussion and a sultry vocal sample. In other words, Ohbliv can knock you out immediately or kill you slowly.
Loops, Chops, Beats, & Vibes
The sequel to last May’s Loops, Chops, Beats & Vibes, Vol. 2 is another testament to Rhettmatic’s keen ear for eclectic samples, his knowledge of breaks, and his propensity for drums that hit like a sledgehammer on concrete. The beats are slightly more intricate, which is probably due to Rhettmatic’s decision to alternate between Pro Tools and Reason (his preferred DAW) when looping and chopping. Like Vol. 1, though, Rhettmatic isn’t concerned with cohesiveness. The rollicking saloon jazz and concussive drums of “Piano Bounce” give way to “Down the Rabbet Hole.” The latter is a mix of portentous funk and eerie, swirling strings, which would make it the ideal soundtrack for a blaxploitation flick set in Haight-Ashbury circa the mid-‘60s. Also, this purposeful disjunction allows two superb tributes to exist on the same record. “Crenshaw & Slauson (A Tribute to Nipsey)” is a somber yet knocking dirge the would’ve been perfect for the aggrieved narratives of the late Los Angeles legend; and “West Coast Vibrations (An Ode to Souls)” mines the chief sample source from Souls of Mischief’s most well-known single for its shimmering, ethereal jazz.
Tane is a Brooklyn-based guitarist/producer from Israel who tempers the organic feel of his most-beloved instrument with digitally-programmed beats. Movin’ In, his auspicious debut, filters funk, soul, blues, and more through a prism of minimal, downtempo hip-hop. On the alternately exuberant and mellow opener “Takin’ Off,” Tane uses bluesy riffs to complement both corsucating keys and sparse yet propulsive drums. He manages these tonal shifts seamlessly throughout the album, both strumming catchy melodies and plucking captivating improvisational runs. On “Cruncheeehhhhh,” for instance, Tane first plays in time with the beat, rising and falling at it does. Then, halfway through, he goes off on a funky, quasi-blues tangent. A warm record full of deftly placed guitar, Movin’ In features many excellent instrumentals; the only thing it’s missing is more complex drumming to complement its virtuosic fretwork. All in all, though, it’s a fantastic start.